Field Trips I Have Known

Being somewhat dutiful parents, my husband and I have chaperoned a number of school field trips over the years.  Most could have been measured somewhere on the scale between mildly annoying to almost triumphant in their effect on the students, but a few have been notable for their drama.

One of the dramatic trips was with our son’s middle school band when they traveled 200 miles up the road to Six Flags Over Texas.  There, they were to play their instruments in a band competition, then play on all the rides at the amusement park.  The weekend turned out to be stormy- intensely stormy.  Because of the heavy weather, Six Flags was closed and the band competition was canceled.  The band director decided to take the kids to the only obvious indoor place one can take a hundred restless kids in bad weather- the nearby shopping mall.  After a day of irritating shoppers, terrorizing the food court, and exhausting the adults in charge of them, it was time to check into the hotel for the night.  It was a high-rise hotel close to the center of the city and the group had been assigned rooms on both sides of the building.  As the lightning tore downward and the rain pelted the city, kids rushed back and forth to rooms on either side of the hallway in order to watch cars disappearing underwater on the freeway below in one direction, and to watch a major fire being unsuccessfully stifled at Mrs. Baird’s Bakery in the other direction.

A couple of years after this exciting and pointless excursion, I accompanied a school trip to the same city for the same purposes with the same school, but this time, with our daughter and the orchestra.  Once again, the weather was treacherous.  We were in a different hotel; this one a high-rise in the suburbs.  The threat this time was not flooding, but tornadoes.  The two rooms of girls of which I was in charge were transfixed by the TV special bulletins long after their curfew, and they continually called my room for reassurance.  The fact was, there were tornadoes touching down all around the area, and a fleet of airliners had already been destroyed at the airport.  For some reason, when I went visiting my two rooms of hysterical girls, I decided to operate on the truth as I knew it, rather than give false assurances that even I couldn’t trust.  Middle school girls are particularly adept at working themselves into a frenzy and they were at that point then.  When they asked me if I would let them know if a tornado were coming, I called up my calmest demeanor and told them that none of us would likely know before a tornado actually hit, so there would probably be no way for me to give them advanced warning.  We did discuss the train locomotive sound that a tornado makes as it nears.  Then they wanted to know if they were going to die.  In my most composed tones, I told them that we all have to die sometime, but none of us knows when that will be.  I promised them that the odds were against us perishing that night, but there were no guarantees.  I think my calmness deflated some of their enjoyment in being emotionally worked-up and they suddenly became much more rational in making plans for an emergency.  One girl actually summoned the memory that the safest thing she could do in a tornado in this situation would be to retreat to the bathtub and pull a mattress over her head.  We all survived the night, as I had suspected we might.

Another dramatic school trip involved a high-school combined orchestra and band trip with several hundred students and adults on two planes going to Florida.  This was a long-anticipated trip to a competition and play days at Disney World and Epcot Center, so no student was going to miss this trip if she could help it.  All it took to initiate a slowly-unfolding disaster was for one sick high school girl to board one plane bound for Florida.  The enormous Disney World has a slick system for keeping up with students.  Each adult in charge is given a pager and if, for any reason, one of the students is incapacitated, the adult is paged and asked to report to the office location.  If the student is feeling sick, she is put into a small room containing a bed and a chair.  The student lies on the bed and the adult sits in the chair, absorbing the germs being discharged from the sick student.  Each adult has a two-hour duty period in the sick room until the entire group is ready to leave the park.  By the end of the 5-day trip, 25% of the students and adults on the trip had the flu, causing all kinds of missed work and school time for the next week.

Peering into the Abyss

Peering into the Abyss

Any teacher can tell you all about the field trip from hell.  Very few will admit to the field trip to hell.  This little scene is a cross between Dante’s Inferno and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings with a little bit of the Family Circus cartoon thrown in.  Clearly, it is a trip to the edge of the pit of hell, just to check things out and see what’s cooking.  Sooner or later, we all stare into the abyss and make some decisions about just how fascinating it really is, or whether we would prefer to move on to greener places.